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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Unleashing the creative: Nietzsche, the phenomenologists and the good life

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Western philosophy has focused on human nature as primarily rational. Where does creativity fit in? Dr Laura D’Olimpio, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame WA, appraises the value of a creative life.
Art is the supreme task, as Nietzsche would have it. How can we balance creativity with rationality? And what are the dangers of letting the Dionysian genie out of the bottle, especially in the public square?  

Image: Portrait of Friederich Nietzsche by Edvard Munch.  
(Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Some of the big names in western philosophy have focused on human nature as primarily rational. In identifying the self with the logical mind, as Plato, Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant have done, a dualism results whereby the body, along with its senses and emotions, becomes de-centralised and often de-valued when we reflect on our human experience.

Historically, there have been philosophers who have contested this rationalist conception of what it means to function well as a human being. Existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jan Patočka are three such theorists who reclaim the role of the body and emotions alongside our rational capacity in order to paint a picture of the human life as embodied and creative.

Nietzsche and the phenomenologists suggest that we should aim at a balance between our rationality and our passions. While the logical mind weighs up our options, it is our emotions that inspire us and motivate us to act. It is through our actions that we transform not just ourselves but also the environment through which we move and the space we inhabit. It is a creative act to give voice to ideas and manifest action in the world.

One way in which we do this is though art. In Nietzsche’s first major work, The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872, the idea of living life creatively is embodied in his idea of living life as an artist. Nietzsche refers to two conflicting creative energies: the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

The Apollonian is the cool rational intellect, while the Dionysian is the passionate emotional aspect. Nietzsche worried that the society of his time only emphasised Apollonian energy and neglected the role of the Dionysian. Theorists like Plato, Descartes and Kant emphasise the rational aspect of humans, yet Nietzsche thought it was important to balance our rationality with our passionate experience of life, and he saw this balance best depicted in ancient Greek tragedies. 

Source: ABC Online